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Long Island Nets Season Preview: Development will be tested in the ‘bubble.’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Long Island Nets will be back in action Wednesday, one of 18 teams participating in the G League “bubble” (“gubble?”) down at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the same venue the NBA took over last summer.

The regular season is down-sized from 28 teams and 50 games to a highly compact schedule. Long Island is set to play 15 games in 25 days beginning Wednesday night against the Iowa Wolves, Minnesota’s affiliate, followed by an eight-team, single-elimination playoff tournament in early March. Typically, the regular season would consist of five-month schedule plus a more robust playoffs.

With the abbreviated schedule, development - always the top priority - will be tested. Bret Brielmaier, who will be in his first season serving in the head chair for LIN, says that the dense schedule will be big for him and his team of 13 players.

“The biggest probable challenge for the season is just the density of games. We are going to play 15 games in 25 days. That’s a lot of playing and we don’t have a very deep roster. We have 10 guys so how we manage the attacks on these guys’ bodies will be important but the G League has done an incredible job of giving our guys the resources to help these guys as recovered, well-fed, hydrated, and ready to play as possible.”

Matt Riccardi, the Long Island Nets General Manager and the Nets’ Director of Scouting, called the decision to opt into the bubble as an easy one but as an opportunity to work with players that are fresh into their system.

“We definitely looked at this G League ‘bubble’ as an opportunity to take a look at some guys that we have not had in our system before,” Riccardi said. “We have an incredible coaching staff and we obviously wanted to make sure that we had players that had a chance to develop, look at as call-up targets for the NBA, and that can put our program as competitive as possible. You will see the makeup of that. I think our oldest player is 28 but we do have a younger group but some veterans mixed in there with some G League experience and NBA experience as well.”

Brielmaier is excited about the roster makeup of his team. The Nets G League affiliate has five tiers of players: NBA experienced players, two-way players, some standouts acquired in the off-season, returning players, and the rookies. Add all those up and the Nets think it’s balanced.

“Matt Riccardi has done an incredible job of putting this together,” Breilmaier said during a Zoom call from Disney World. “It is very balanced in my opinion. We have some veteran leadership that has a good deal of NBA experience.”

The format of the regular season does have a hidden benefit. The Net G League affiliate will likely not see much player movement due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Chemistry will benefit.

Players to Watch

Beyond their initial 10-man roster, the Nets added three two-ways in the last week.

Reggie Perry, the Nets two-way rookie, was assigned to Long Island last week, following a lengthy history of past Nets rookies who put on the blue, white, and red in recent years. Perry, who has 14 NBA games under his belt, will be joined by two other two-way players from the Dallas Mavericks: Nate Hinton, a 6’6” shooting guard out of Houston, and Tyler Bey, a 6’7” small forward out of Colorado. The Mavs opted out of the “bubble” but under league rules can send to players to the “bubble” while retaining the players’ NBA rights.

Perry is, for fans and Nets executives alike, is the player whose progress will be most monitored ... starting with where Brielmaier will play him, at the 4, at the 5? Perry showed flashes for Brooklyn and in his next-to-last game pulled off a double-double against OKC.

Aside from the two-way’s, here are some players to keep an eye on …

Elie Okobo leads the Nets G League affiliate when it comes to NBA experience. The French point guard, who’s only 23, has played in 108 NBA games with the Suns over the course of the last two seasons and is the highest draft pick selection (31st) on Long Island.

Riccardi called him “amazing” and is really excited to work with him, noting that the Nets liked him prior to the 2018 NBA Draft.

“Elie is an amazing player,” Riccardi said of the 6’3” French point guard. “We’ve seen him from his draft time to being on the Phoenix Suns to playing for the Northern Arizona Suns. Similar to B.J. [Johnson] and the other guys on our roster, we are really excited to get a chance to work with Elie. Someone we have seen from afar. We liked all of his intangibles, skills, NBA size, and just looking forward to seeing how he mixes with our group, our coaching staff, and vice versa.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

It is worth noting that Sean Marks personally scouted Okobo in France prior to the 2018 Draft.

B.J. Johnson, who was a G League standout last season as a two-way for the Magic’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic. A 6’7” small forward packed with athleticism, he too was on the Nets radar for a while as he put up big numbers playing against Long Island. In addition to his familiarity with Long Island, Johnson has appeared in 17 NBA games with the Hawks and the Magic.

“We have seen BJ play a ton in the past,” Riccardi said. “We played against him in the playoffs two years ago when he was playing with Lakeland. We have seen him in the NBA. We think he is a really good player and a high-quality player that has a chance to continue to develop. Not just him but a lot of our guys, we feel the same way about it. They would not be here if we did not think highly of them and we didn’t think they can contribute to this group and make it as competitive as possible for us.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

To Brielmaier, both Okobo and Johnson are the high-level experienced guys in their unit. The 35-year-old head coach called them impressive and is fortunate to coach the two.

“Both B.J. and Elie, you can tell they have had high-level experience through their careers so far,” Brielmaier said. “They have a way about them. They understand the game and their ability to help the younger guys, the less seasoned guys, has been really impressive. In both of them, you see great bodies, understand angles, great anticipation, and we are very fortunate to have those guys.”

Paul Eboua may be Long Island’s most intriguing player. Eboua, who is only 20 years old, is 6’8”, built like a wall and has a 7’3” wingspan to go with it all.

The 20-year-old, who was claimed by Brooklyn after being waived by the Heat in December, (the first waiver claim in Sean Marks’ five-year tenure). He is viewed as raw and undeveloped by many pro scouts but Riccardi credits his international scouts for finding him. Long Island is thrilled to have him, he said.

“Incredible young prospect that our international scouts Simone Casali, Jeff Peterson, B.J. Johnson (the Nets player development coordinator, not the player), who have done an incredible job of identifying in the past,” Riccardi said. “Someone we have followed closely and someone our coaching staff targeted as someone being really excited to work with.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Prior to the 2020 NBA Draft, multiple mock drafts linked Eboua falling to the Nets in the second round but the Cameroonian-Italian player went undrafted.

Some other players to keep an eye on:

Shannon Scott, who at 28 years old, is the oldest player on the roster, returns to LI. He was a member of the 2019 NBA G League Finals team. Scott is ready to apply his veteran experience to his new cast of teammates.

“Just being able to talk about the foundation being built from previous years,” Scott said on veteran leadership. “A lot of similar schemes that we are going through to kind of help the younger guys out to let them know how things were in the past, how we were successful, and the things that didn’t work out for us.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Nate Sestina, was four-year star at Bucknell, then filled a journeyman’s role as a grad transfer at Kentucky, is likely to serve as a stretch-5 for the Nets G League affiliate in the bubble. Sestina already provided a preview that he will be shooting from deep - a part of his game Brielmaier wants him to consistently bring to each game.

“Coach Bret has messaged me and sent me clips. We have talked about it a lot,” Sestina said. “He said ‘you got a flamethrower. You got to let that thing go. If you leave the game with a full clip, that is on you’ so they are very confident in me, and having a front office and coaching staff that is confident in you should give you the ultimate confidence to go out and play as well as knowing your teammates are confident in you as well and your ability to do something.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

C.J. Massinburg, who is one of two returning Net from last season’s G League roster, is excited to be back. Massinburg missed several games last season due to injury.

“I’m excited to be back again,” the 6’5” shooting guard said. “When you come back the second time, you have more experience under your belt, you know how the pace of the game is, and you basically know what to expect. I’m excited to be back again.”

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Massinburg is coming into the bubble confident with a year of experience under his belt. In addition, Massinburg is very familiar with Brielmaier from past summer workouts and Nets training camp.

“Even though when Bret was with Brooklyn, I had some summer workouts with Brooklyn and I was in training camp with Brooklyn so I was pretty familiar with Bret,” Massinburg said. “Built a relationship with him there so now that he has the head job, everything is just comfortable and nothing is really foreign. The sets that we run, concepts, and so it is just good to be back another year and I am able to pass down that knowledge to the younger guys and guys who aren’t so familiar.”

Jeremiah Martin, who is no longer on a two-way with Brooklyn, is a player the Nets organization still likes a lot. Martin, who has played in nine NBA games with Brooklyn, is a top-quality defender and is known for his quickness.

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets also signed Jordan Bowden back in November, believing he has potential as a 3-and-D possibilities. A four-year player at Tennessee, Bowden is 6’5” with a reputation for toughness. He played with several NBA players in Knoxville, including Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander.

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Riccardi is banking on the trio of Scott, Massinburg, and Martin to help navigate the ship as the veteran leaders through the unique bubble experience.

“We have been leaning on both coach and our players a ton, especially the guys that have been in the bubble before and giving us some examples of what to expect and pointers on how we can navigate this thing to the best of our ability,” Riccardi said, referring in particular to Martin who averaged 10 points in the NBA “bubble”. “We are thankful we have such guidance in this group of people to lean on and have been there before.”

The Nets traded for two other prospects in the off-season: Tariq Owens, a shot-blocking 6’10” center who played for St. John’s and Texas Tech in college and Northern Arizona in the G League last season. He impressed enough to be chosen for the G League team that took part in scrimmages last month with Team Ignite, the select group of high school stars the NBA recruited to play in the G League.

2021 Long Island Nets Content Day Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Kaiser Gates, a 6’7” wing the Celtics had on their Red Claws roster last season. A 3-point specialist, Gates is likely to see action off the bench.

No doubt development will be tested throughout the “bubble” experience but the duo of Brielmaier and Riccardi has a track record of finding solid players. The two 35-year-olds have already found two diamonds-in-the rough.

The head coach pushed the Nets to sign Joe Harris, a castoff struggling to find a landing spot after he joined Brooklyn. Brielmaier had served as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Harris’ last stop before Brooklyn.

Riccardi pushed hard for the front office to take a strong look at Spencer Dinwiddie a few months later. Dinwiddie, then with the Windy City Bulls, had already been cut by two NBA teams.

Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game vs. Iowa and all their games will be streamed on ESPN+. The game against Team Ignite will be featured on ESPNU February 22.